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Children’s Librarians Corrupting the Youth

It’s no secret that science gets a bad rap these days. A majority of Americans are scientifically illiterate, and that might be true in other countries as well.

One could point to a lot of reasons. Millions of Americans believe the earth is 10,000 years old because their religious tribe tells them to. Millions of Americans also believe that climate science is a Chinese hoax because their political tribe tells them to. And millions more believe in homeopathy, astrology, and crystal healing because who knows why.

Who’s to blame for all this? Is it a bad educational system? General human stupidity? Well, if some scientists are correct, one of the problems is children’s books and the craven fools who write and promote them, including the evil children’s librarians who are trying to brainwash children.

The headline is, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Lied to You As a Child,” because the editor doesn’t understand what the word “lie” means.

The subtitle is “Do children’s books need to be fact-checked to make them more true to nature?” Betteridge’s Law of Headlines would indicate that the answer is “no,” and suggest to us that nothing in the article is worth reading. But I read it anyway.

These concerned scientists think children’s fictional books should be scientifically accurate, because they don’t understand how fiction works. According to one publisher, “When I was working with an entomologist on an insect book, he said that one of his pet peeves is that the editor for Eric Carle’s book about the hungry caterpillar did not vet it [with an expert].”

If that’s the sort of thing that bothers you, you should really go back to your bugs because you clearly know nothing about literature, children’s or otherwise.

Another publisher that “is explicitly focused on science and math education,” and yet still publishes children’s fiction rather than nonfiction, says that “some scientists hate books that feature anthropomorphic characters.”

I’m starting to see why so many people hate science.

It’s not just the bad things children’s fiction does, like have talking animals, but what they don’t do, like teach scientific facts.

For example, a Chilean ecology professor conducted a study of Spanish-language children’s books and “found some explicit mistakes, usually with animals in the wrong place—a red deer, found in the northern hemisphere, was the hero of a book about the southern rainforests.”

My goodness, how do the authors of such travesties sleep at night?

Scientists rightly complain when politicians with no knowledge of science make false and misleading claims about science. It makes sense. People have fields of expertise, and when they don’t have any fields of expertise they can always become politicians.

But this is an example of scientists staking out a position on something they don’t know about or understand: literature. They think they have something to say about literature because they know about science, but everything they say about literature is baloney.

If you’re a parent or librarian using The Cat in the Hat to teach about science, then you’re a fool and the children in your charge will grow up to be fools as well.

Cats don’t talk. They only wear hats and bow ties when their annoying owners try to dress them up. And they would never, ever go out of their way to entertain anyone, including children. What’s more, fish also don’t talk. If you’re a scientist frustrated by that, then you’re also a fool who should stick to your sciencing.

Take a look at this list of 100 great children’s books, issued by the New York Public Library. Some of those books are meant to teach facts. For example, the description for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom reads, “The letters of the alphabet climb a coconut tree with riotous results.  A rollicking introduction to the ABC’s.” The ABCs are facts, but here the scientists would be correct in saying that letters don’t climb trees.

But most aren’t. In Harold and the Purple Crayon, “With crayon firmly in hand Harold creates whole worlds for himself and his readers.” Crayons don’t really create worlds. Shocking, but true.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “A down-trodden orphan is summoned to an elite academy of wizards to fulfill his destiny.” There are no academies for wizards, elite or otherwise.

That last one is a particularly useful example because of the religious debates about the Harry Potter series. According to the Wikipedia article, “Most of the criticism of Harry Potter is from Fundamental Evangelical Christian groups, who believe the series’ alleged pagan imagery is dangerous to children.”

Here is the weird area where religious fundamentalism and science fundamentalism meet, because that concern is just as stupid as the concern that books with talking animals are bad for children because they’re not scientific.

Both concerns are about stifling imagination in the service of unproven dogma that one narrow point of view should prevail over all else.

It’s no wonder such people hate literature, because good literature for every age is about expanding the imagination.

The lessons literature has to teach have little to do with scientific facts or religious beliefs. It might teach about empathy or friendship, but it might just entertain.

If you read The Three Little Pigs and your complaint is that pigs don’t build houses or wolves aren’t indigenous to your region so the book is scientifically misleading, then you haven’t understood the story, no matter how much you might know about science. That sort of thinking will corrupt the youth much faster than any children’s book.

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Comments

  1. Just an FYI you used the wrong from of they’re/their/there in the following sentence:

    “Cats don’t talk. They only wear hats and bow ties when they’re annoying owners try to dress them up.”

    We’ll chalk it up to being Monday morning, haha!

  2. john krivak says:

    Spell check doesn’t catch “bad wrap’ when ‘bad rap” is meant. Perhaps one more cup of coffee before posting on Monday morning?

  3. Judy Oltmanns says:

    If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. —Albert Einstein

  4. Springboard says:

    I think we could have more interesting conversation if we used AL articles as a springboard rather than an either/or debate platform. I can appreciate that even in children’s fiction, having some elements in a story that reflect accurate history, animal behavior, the way things work in the world does not mean that same story can no longer be fantastically creative. Hanzel and Gretyl learned that breadcrumbs weren’t great trail markers because birds will eat them up, so we get creative and think about what’s available to us in the woods that would work better. Still a great story but it’s teaching us to think not just in an imaginative sense but in a scientific sense as well. We are aware of our nation’s STEM challenge, so why isn’t it a worthwhile conversation to talk about how literature and even “lesser fiction” might be better used to address it in a holistic way?

  5. Mommy Librarian says:

    My 2 year old knows that a caterpillar comes from an egg, that it builds a cocoon, then becomes a butterfly. She knows all these words, and what they mean, even when looking at live caterpillars and butterflies.
    It is fascinating to see her learn these things, the facts. Without the “fantasy” portion of it, I doubt it would hold much interest for her because all she seems to be interested in otherwise are princesses or mermaids. Some imaginative literature is good for children’s minds, to keep them engaged. I think fact mixed with fiction is wonderful literature.

    • Linda Woodbury says:

      The problem with The Very Hungry Caterpillar is that butterflies don’t spin cocoons, their last shed skin hardens to become a chrysalis. Even before the publication of Caterpillar, everyone except entomologists was confused about cocoons and chrysalises, but that book perpetuates the confusion for the adults reading to the children as well as the children themselves. The story is still so much fun, and it does excite interest in metamorphosis, but now I find myself wanting to add a comment to the adults in the audience,”actually….”

    • anonymous coward says:

      it’s a problem too. you know how many chrysalis related deaths there were last year alone because people thought they were cocoons?

  6. Springboard says:

    Yeah, who cares about minor details? What’s it matter if we don’t sweat the small stuff? Let’s keep the masses entertained and away from anything that might set ’em to thinking too much. They won’t question what we put out in the news.
    The world can still be full of wonder, fun, and serendipity as we teach children (and ourselves) about what makes it so. Keeping an eye out for details can lead to great discoveries. Like code-crackers, and scientists who discover cures or who figure out how to save the polar bears or any number of miraculous, wondrous things that children may dream for their futures.

    • Minor Details like... says:

      Minor details like, you know, the fact that fantasy and imaginative works for children have never been correlated with scientific illiteracy…ever? Let alone causing it. I mean, for scientists, the article writers really don’t support their claims with evidence at all; it’s just their opinion.

      When I was a kiddo, I read all the “Zoobooks,” which were non-fiction books about animals for kids. I also read plenty of stories with talking animals, or stories where some animal-behaviorism was gotten wrong (like a large portion of “Far Side of the Mountain” centers around a boy training a hawk to hunt with him, and a lot of that sequence is not accurate about hawk training and other wilderness-survival aspects). But I read all those “Jack London Jr.”-type books because I thought nature and animals were awesome, and the cool, somewhat exaggerated adventure aspects encouraged me to research *actual* animal behavior.

      I agree that scientific illiteracy is a problem, but it’s an extremely unlikely hypothesis that fantasy literature is a factor in that.

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